From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Committee on Review Launches Massive Fact-finding Effort

Date 04 May 1996 20:55:55


95424     Committee on Review Launches Massive Fact-finding Effort 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--An unprecedented number of Presbyterians will be invited 
to share their opinions about the state of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
as the quadrennial Committee on Review of General Assembly entities (CR) 
gathers data for its evaluation of the denomination's national 
     Plans laid out by the committee for what CR chair Jay Poppinga calls 
the "fact-gathering phase" of its work indicate that more than 3,000 
persons will be sent written questionnaires and at least 100 others will be 
interviewed by members of the committee. 
     The 10-page questionnaire, developed by a CR subcommittee in 
conjunction with the Research Services office in the Congregational 
Ministries Division, will soon be sent to all presbytery and synod 
executives, all members of presbytery and synod councils and a random 
sampling of 600 elders in congregations throughout the denomination. 
     The questionnaire seeks to measure the level of familiarity and 
understanding with the General Assembly structure and functions by 
Presbyterians in other governing bodies and their level of contact with the 
Assembly and its national staff. 
     The questionnaire also asks respondents to identify the main sources 
they rely on for information about the denomination, their level of concern 
about actions of the General Assembly and its entities and their views on 
how lower governing bodies should be represented at the Assembly level. 
     A second questionnaire will be sent to selected national staff members 
and elected persons serving on Assembly-level committees. 
     The extensive data-gathering seems designed to address directly the 
extent of discontent with the national church organization (see "NEWS 
BRIEFS," Oct. 27, 1995, #95385) and whether the CR will delve very 
extensively into it. 
     "My hearing is that there is some fear of this committee and the power 
some perceive we have and the questions we may ask," said Betty Moore, CR 
representative from the Synod of South Atlantic. "This suggests that some 
may feel too vulnerable to share openly with us," she added, saying she 
hopes the anonymous and confidential questionnaires will overcome any 
     The Rev. Zane Buxton, Office of the General Assembly staff to the 
committee, reported that staff members of the National Ministries Division 
expressed in a meeting he attended "concern that the Review Committee will 
only talk to directors -- people want to know how to get [their input] into 
the process and need to be asked." 
          Staff morale added to concerns to be addressed 
     The Rev. Corina Chavez, CR representative from the Synod of the 
Southwest, said, "Everyone we have talked to [at the Presbyterian Center in 
Louisville] has expressed morale concerns."  Her view was echoed by several 
     Alan Landes from the Synod of the Rocky Mountains, noted an employee 
survey conducted a year ago that he said "indicated a very low level of 
employee morale and lack of confidence in senior management."  Landes 
described the survey as "intriguing." 
     Buxton pointed out that the survey was taken "shortly after downsizing 
and Re-imagining." Moore responded, "That makes it even more important to 
determine whether morale has improved since then, and if not, why not." 
General Assembly Council (GAC) associate director for operations the Rev. 
Frank Diaz said results of follow-up actions taken last spring after the 
survey findings were published are now being compiled. 
     The committee docketed the issue of employee morale for its Dec. 14-16 
meeting here and asked Diaz to furnish it with the follow-up information. 
        Ministry divisions, CAS and OGA  share their work 
     Following up on a broad overview of the GAC's work presented to the 
committee at its last meeting by GAC executive director the Rev. James D. 
Brown and GAC chair the Rev. D. William McIvor, the CR spent a sizable 
portion of this meeting hearing firsthand about the work of the GAC's three 
ministry divisions and Corporate and Administrative Services (CAS) office. 
     Brown introduced the presentations by describing the mood in 
Louisville as "an intense time of soul-searching, reflecting deeply about 
the nature of our work."  Amid the problems, he once again, as he did at 
the last meeting, lifted up the "Year With Africa" and the "Volunteers in 
Shared Ministry" initiatives as examples of "an exciting new level of 
participation" by Presbyterians throughout the church in the denomination's 
mission program. 
     Eugene McKelvey, a Houston physician who serves on the Worldwide 
Ministries Division (WMD) committee, described the division's work as "a 
comprehensive mission program."  He said, "These are exciting times in 
which we must maintain conventional missions but also adapt to changing 
circumstances and new opportunities."  WMD director the Rev. Clifton 
Kirkpatrick then outlined some of the division's cutting-edge programs in 
places like the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, China and Africa. 
     Lynn Jostes, a Christian educator in Sarasota, Fla., who serves on the 
Congregational Ministries Division (CMD) committee, said the division "is 
my main resource and source of support for all I do in my local church." 
She said she "believes the current vision of the General Assembly focuses 
on congregations -- the soul of our church."  The work of the division was 
outlined by CMD director the Rev. Eunice Poethig, who said Presbyterian 
polity defines "the mission of congregations as not just to serve their own 
folk, but to connect them with other congregations and the whole church." 
     The work of the National Ministries Division (NMD) was described by 
NMD director the Rev.  Curtis Kearns and NMD committee chair DeAun West of 
Rapid City, S.D.  West, who has been a member of the same congregation for 
51 years, said she was "interested to find that I became one of those who 
is  out of touch' because I am now on the GAC."  She said she "takes it as 
a challenge to be an interpreter of the GAC's work," which she described as 
a "real team effort." 
     CAS's work, which includes financial and accounting services, legal 
services, property and human resources management, distribution services 
and information services (computer systems), was described by CAS chair 
Duane Black of Yucaipa, Calif., and CAS director G.A. "Pat" Goff.  They 
outlined the complex mix of funding sources that contribute to the General 
Assembly's $110 million-plus budget and current budget trends. 
     The committee also heard from General Assembly stated clerk the Rev. 
James E. Andrews and Office of the General Assembly (OGA) director for 
constitutional services the Rev. C. Fred Jenkins.   
     Andrews told the CR that he has been surprised to find that "the 
decline of membership and giving in the Presbyterian Church is ordinary, 
not unique."  He said such decline in the church is paralleled by virtually 
every volunteer organization in the country and that it "signals a decline 
of civic society in the United States."   
     If such a general decline is taking place in the entire society, he 
continued, "then the approach of the church is somewhere between unworkable 
and inappropriate."  He urged CR members to read the Lilly-funded study 
"The Presbyterian Presence," edited by Louisville Presbyterian Theological 
Seminary faculty members John Mulder ( the seminary's president), Milton J 
Coalter and Louis B. Weeks (now president of Union Theological Seminary in 
     Asked for signs of hope, Andrews cited three "keys" to the 
Presbyterian Church's recovery: 
        responsiveness to "constituents" as a whole rather than separate 
approaches to different "constituency groups" 
         the ability to be "adaptive and innovative to a society in which 
there will soon be no majority group ... the first church that becomes 
truly multicultural will dominate the religious landscape in the 21st 
        what the church contributes to the renewal of the public education 
system in the U.S.  -- "it was ours to begin with, after all, and is 
central to the transmission of values in a society."  

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
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